Monthly Archives of: January 2012

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★ Touch me

I’ve noticed this strange quirk happening lately, most noticeably when I’m on my laptop at work. I’ll glance up at the laptop screen, spot a link in a web page (perhaps one I’ve launched using a keyboard shortcut), and reach up to touch it. Not reach for the mouse, not reach for the trackpad (which is already halfway between my hand and the screen), but reach up for the screen itself. My brain is telling me that the right thing to do is to touch it.

I’d written off the concept of touch screens on laptops, after all, who wants to spend their time hovering an arm above a screen, won’t we all suffer from gorilla arm or stress injuries? Well perhaps not. I’d say that perhaps 20% of my time on the ipad goes to touching the screen for input (scrolling, swiping, pinching and so on), perhaps another 20% of it is spent typing with the rest of that time spent simply reading. Now that I’m using (and loving) the apple bluetooth keyboard, I’d say the time I spend touching the screen for that would be down to around 5-10%. The iPad is simply the most-read piece of media in my life, hands down (no pun intended).

Given how much Lion is shifting OS X towards iOS, perhaps the concept of a touch screen laptop isn’t so crazy after all. Nevertheless, the more I use the iPad, the more I expect OS X to behave the same — and not in the ‘i wish control and command were same key’ way you might experience when shifting from mac to windows. This really does give me reason to pause when it happens (a few times now), and realise that something quite profoundly different in the paradigm of personal computing is happening right before my eyes — and I can’t keep my eyes off it.

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★ On format

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Printing Press, by Thomas Hawk

I’ve been thinking lately, about the plethora of new book distribution formats (be that electronic, audio, print-on-demand) and one thing occurred to me that I just can’t shake.

How will we look back on todays written word, in generations to come?

I don’t mean through the lens of nostalgia, rather I mean how will we retrieve, access, read and learn from this moment in time – when a staggeringly huge amount of it is locked up in proprietary formats and in many ways destined to decay along with their creators. I’m reasonably certain that the standards-based web (HTML, CSS, JS) will be with us for a long time, but what of other book formats and their makers? The ePub format, for example. Or the DRM ridden .aa format? I’m not one to yearningly look back on years gone by, but have we not seen the rise and fall of platforms and media time and time again? The one thing that has seemingly undergone utterly minor transformation (and has certainly stood the test of time) is the printed word. It’s possible to browse the pages of a 100 year old manuscript without fear of destroying the contents. Which of todays formats will stand that test of time. Will we be wrestling with archaic kindle formats in 100 years time? I can’t see it happening.

This doesn’t mean I see no value in innovating through the digital. This kind of transformation is absurdly disruptive (just ask Amazon or Borders Books), and I look forward to watching apple wreak havoc on the incumbent textbook industry.

I do wonder, though, what the next 20-40 years will look like from the other side. Will we look back on the e-books of 2012 with the same nostalgia given over to old photographs, or to a 19th Century printing press?

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★ Running out of ink

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Excited by the pirate bay’s physible concept, you know, the one about 3d printing your footwear? Well here’s a counter argument, made by Nick Cernis, aka the modern nerd.

I do not wish to be told that my 3D printer is out of nanocyan when it’s doing the tricky bits around the laces. I do not dream of discarding twelve pairs of half-printed, mangled, almost shoes in order to get one wearable pair of sort-of-looks-like-shoes-if-you-stand-here-and-squint-a-bit.

I have some experience with 3d printing, having used a 3d printer to mock up the design for social firefly (amongst other architectural models), and I agree that the medium is primarily designed for quick, cheap and cheerful models to help you along your way. Perhaps footwear is the worst example you might have chosen for this – who wants to wince your way about your day, cursing the resin replicant that allows none of the specially designed material comforts you’ve grown accustomed to – jewelry is a more common example and one which could be forgiven for affording a lack of comfort. Below I’ve added a few process shots from Social Firefly to add some texture. They’re here to illustrate the range of fabrication techniques critical to the development of the artwork, but apply equally to things like footwear and products (if not, more so)

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In my experience, the 3d print is one of many steps along the way, one which allows for learning to occur in a design process. It’s useful in the same way that handmade models are – you can touch them, feel them, observe how others interact with them, measure and assess their success away from the potentially misleading digital universe found within 3d modeling software packages.

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In many ways, if you can’t touch it, you can’t learn from it. This is the real design innovation of 3d printing, not end user convenience.

3d printing really is only one of a handful of useful tools designed to do rapid prototyping, and in concert they do truly sing. I would even go so far as to say that the practice of industrial design (be that of watches, furniture or kettles) has a long history of working with materials, constraints and design problems in this very space, and ought not to be supplanted by off the shelf or DIY product fabrication kits. Not that I think they will, because all things considered, it’s a hobbyists game.

The world has changed. People who hated technology are beginning to fall in love with it. New generations are growing up having never experienced technology when it was hard.

“It just works,” is slowly becoming the default rather than the exception

I couldn’t agree more. It makes me think back to the days when I was the only one who knew how things worked, or for that matter cared. This thing? I don’t know, it just works. I might add, that some people who hated technology for different reasons (diabolical systems, poor interoperability, tech monopolies) are now looking around in wonder at the plethora of people who seem to be starting to talk the same language. That design matters. That a focus on the user is critical. That success doesn’t depend on screwing the user for every possible dollar. They are even starting to gloat with pride at the knowledge that they were the first to jump on the great design bandwagon, and all the resulting success.

Not that I have a problem with it, I simply find it interesting.

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I do believe we’ve seen a fairly fundamental shift in computing, away from the age old problem of using computers (not knowing how to) to a point in time where concepts like usability and design are heralding in a new era of technology adoption.

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I’m not 100% on this, but I’m starting to wonder if there’s ever been an age when such a large proportion of the population had access to, and made great use of, the one set of technologies. There’s the written word, which has been around for centuries, and there’s the automobile, which could undermine this thesis, but I’m starting to think the technologies that underpin modern society (the Internet, the mobile phone) are becoming more ubiquitous than others. I’m not sure, I’ll come back to you on this.

People will learn to reject machines that make things harder for them. There is no place for ubiquitous 3D printers in this world unless they can avoid the simple frustrations that manufacturers of regular printers could not. And I have my doubts.

It has taken 20 years of trial and error, and the printing industry still hasn’t cracked it. I hate to say it, but I think nick is right. I guess I’ll do the same in 2020, when I run out of sneakers (pun intended) – I’ll go and restock my printer.

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★ Download your sneakers

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Fascinating to catch the pirate-eye view on the physical/digital overlap.

Today most data is born digitally. It’s not about the transition from analog to digital anymore. We don’t talk about how to rip anything without losing quality since we make perfect 1 to 1 digital copies of things. Music, movies, books, all come from the digital sphere. But we’re physical people and we need objects to touch sometimes as well!

We believe that the next step in copying will be made from digital form into physical form. It will be physical objects. Or as we decided to call them: Physibles. Data objects that are able (and feasible) to become physical. We believe that things like three dimensional printers, scanners and such are just the first step. We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare sparts for your vehicles. You will download your sneakers within 20 years.

Printing your sneakers. The future is almost here, folks.

Via Ben Bashford

Augmented Reality Operations
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1% of 1%

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My colleague Jo McKiernan on QR codes, and internet access in general.

I think that we are experiencing is possibly analogous to what we saw when the web went mainstream. When first we started seeing urls appearing on stuff – adverts particularly – I remember having a conversation that went something along the lines of “yeah, but no one is ever going to use them, AND you need an internet connection!”.

Now, access to the internet is a fundamental human right, and if we can’t follow our favourite brands on Twitter or like them on Facebook we feel somehow cheated.

I can see what Jo’s point is, however it does strike me as something that shies well away from crossing a widely yawning digital divide.

Access to the internet has been proposed as a fundamental human right (and in some places it is considered to be), but I would say this is more in the sense that cutting off access is a violation of those rights. Similar to cutting off water or food supply.

Which in turn, really only applies to the very small sub-set of the population with internet access (in their pockets), or the even smaller sub-set of that population, who feel cheated when they can’t follow or engage with their favourite brands on Facebook. Digital literacy and access is an increasingly bigger problem, getting worse rather than better. It is as much a global as it is a national issue, the Australian national broadband network being one topical infrastructure example currently being toted as part of the solution. In my view, solving the problem of those pesky QR code is not a high priority.

As it is, QR codes provide, at low cost, an easy mechanism for “distributing” additional information should visitors want it. As a visitor, accessing this information might enhance my experience, but not taking advantage of it will not detract from my visit.

Improving digital literacy, helping people stay connected in faraway places, providing infrastructure and platforms for people to support themselves – this is the main game. Connectivity, health & education are core tenets of the broadband push, and rightly so.

Even accepting that this argument doesn’t talk to the elderly or those in underprivileged parts of society, the QR code rates so low on my list of silver bullet technologies. High barrier to entry, non human-readable, seemingly equally useful as printed URLs – what problems of usability do QR codes actually solve? What additional information do they provide, and at what (cognitive) cost?

I will accept that there are some really good examples of QR codes doing interesting things – but that’s about it. Toys for smartphone users (like myself) to geek out over. As always, it’s the tech that gets the focus, rather than the human benefits, the enabling effects, the tech can unlock.

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★ Starting today

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Marco makes his point about SOPA crystal clear:

It’s also worth reconsidering our support of the MPAA. The MPAA is a hate-sink, a front to protect its members from negative PR. But unlike the similarly purposed Lodsys (and many others), it’s easy to see who the MPAA represents: Disney, Sony Pictures, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Brothers. (Essentially, all of the major movie studios.)

The MPAA studios hate us. They hate us with region locks and unskippable screens and encryption and criminalization of fair use. They see us as stupid eyeballs with wallets, and they are entitled to a constant stream of our money. They despise us, and they certainly don’t respect us.

Yet when we watch their movies, we support them.

Even if we don’t watch their movies in a theater or buy their plastic discs of hostility, we’re still supporting them. If we watch their movies on Netflix or other flat-rate streaming or rental services, the service effectively pays them on our behalf next time they negotiate the rights or buy another disc. And if we pirate their movies, we’re contributing to the statistics that help them convince Congress that these destructive laws are necessary.

They use our support to buy these laws.

So maybe, instead of waiting for the MPAA’s next law and changing our Twitter avatars for a few days in protest, it would be more productive to significantly reduce or eliminate our support of the MPAA member companies starting today, and start supporting campaign finance reform.

I’m way ahead of you (although perhaps not in the way you meant).

I’m reminded once again, of Horace’s break down of the studio system revenue stream and the way it distributes wealth in staggeringly unfair ways. The system is broken, and I do agree we need to reconsider our actions and how we support these businesses – as ultimately most of what we consume is produced by this small cadre of hugely successful businesses, and they’re not concerned about much other than their bottom line.

Recently there’s been quite a vocal subset of the internet community (led by those who are most active in creating the platforms, soap boxes or information catalogues we all use daily), about the nature of the proposed SOPA/PIPA legislation.  Interestingly, it seems that the fallout is just as interesting as the battle and protest.  More and more it’s becoming apparent that the Motion Picture Association of America, and the studio’s in Hollywood, are dead-set on halting progress and innovation in the internet.  They’ve even lost sight of the enormous potential for their business to grow and shift according to the technological innovations now available to so many.  Instead, they’re attempting to blockade the internet with a garage of clichés like american, foreign, criminal or jobs.  It’s lame and it’s absurd.

The old business models are being disrupted daily, that much is clear.  So where do we now stand on this?  Do we continue to support the old, the flailing, the stagnant and slow-moving businesses, those who do all they can to obfuscate and obscure clarity – those who seem to hold me at arms length, and do all they can to hinder my ability?  At the expense of the new, do I stand behind this old and outdated system?

I do not.

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★ We can remember it for you

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Total Recall (1990) : minimalist poster

Apparently there’s a remake in the works for Total Recall. At first glance it looks to have a decent cast, with Colin Firth filling Arnie’s immensely cavernous shoes as Doug Quaid.  Other notable notables include Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad really has done wonders for his film career), Kate Beckinsale, Bill Nighy and Ethan Hawke.  A cursory browse through flickr will reveal that the project is well under way and looks like it’ll be quite faithful to the 90’s sci-fi action flick.

Total Recall is rather loosely based on one of Philip K Dick’s short stories, one called We can remember it for you wholesale.  It’s quite a liberal interpretation, embellishing some of the details and inventing an action / adventure plot line that isn’t present in the short story. It’s a decent story though, I came across it in The Philip K. Dick Reader (note: that’s an amazon affiliate link), which is a collection of stories laced with technology, paranoia and the uncanny.

I’m a big fan of PKD, so here’s hoping the remake doesn’t either i) do injustice to the original material, or ii) completely destroy Arnie’s legacy from the 90’s.

I wonder if they’ll also remake Arnie’s classic blow-by-blow DVD commentary.

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★ Stop SOPA

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Apologies to all of you who’ll soon visit jasonmcdermott.net in search of interesting things. Tomorrow will be one day where this site is unavailable.

I’m joining the stop SOPA movement, you will instead find information about why this proposed (American) legislation is bad for the Internet and not only in the US.

The ire this bill has raised in the online communities is nothing short of remarkable. Very notable websites are also getting involved, you can see their efforts ring loud and clear.

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★ Use your voice

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Now isn’t this interesting. Apparently the way we talk to Siri is changing the way we talk to one another.

Person teased by friend for ordering cheeseburger with exaggerated clarity. “Now that I use Siri, I enunciate everything.” #newaesthetic

It’s not the first time this has been suggested, back in November Adam noted the significant distinction between thinking of Siri as a better human-computer-interaction device, and the effects it is having on human-human-interaction.

You learn quickly that Siri has certain expectations, certain limitations, and must be spoken to with a certain cadence reflecting a certain pattern of thought. Speaking to Siri is a lot like speaking to someone whose English isn’t so strong. It works better if you naturally pre-diagram your sentences and order them rudimentarily.

Which is to say, Siri will teach us how to talk to Siri but maybe more importantly, how to talk to each other.

I can’t begin to think of where this is going, but in my mind this sort of thing is linked to the discussion going on around the machine readable world, yet it’s so clearly machine-driven human behaviour.  People choosing to communicate far more clearly, as the result of a machine being unable to understand you.

It didn’t work with the Newton, 20 years ago, but it’s working with the iPhone in 2012.